Watching the Eagles this season has been an emotionally trying experience. They started out the year with expectations of mediocrity. A week two loss to the Chiefs and then very close wins in weeks three and four to the Giants and Chargers caused concern. The remainder of the season consisted of blowing out weak teams, closely overcoming good teams, and losses to the Seahawks and Cowboys (this one probably doesn't count because starters played very little.) In the midst of this great season were injuries that should have devastated. Two all-stars (running back/offensive lineman), a rising linebacker, and the new face of this franchise all went down with season-ending injuries. Needless to say, despite the injuries, this season has been a welcomed surprise for the fans. However, even with the number one seed and subsequent first round/home field advantage, many analysts, Vegas included, have counted this team out. So, why have they been wrong so far? How has this team managed to continue winning in situations where other teams would succumb to losing key players? How did this team hold onto the number one seed. How did they beat a team that was one half from being Super bowl champions one short year ago? Obviously this team is talented, but it seems that there is something else going on here. Head coach Doug Pederson seems to have instilled a firm belief of family, brotherhood, and faith in one another. No matter what happens, from Wentz's torn ACL to Ajayi's fumble in the first offensive drive of last week's game, this team remains cohesive, maintains a sharp focus, and finds ways to prevail.
It is possible that the culture of family and firm belief in each other has been exacerbated by the Eagles' perception of success and failure. When injuries surfaced, they didn't dwell on it and become disheartened. It was a matter of "next man up" and the belief that this next man was going take care of business. Below are some examples:
1. The loss to the Chief's was followed by a thrilling three point win against the Giants due to a 61 yard field goal by replacement kicker, Jake Elliot. Two points here. First, teams that lack cohesion often falter under pressure because they are not connected. The Eagles remained cohesive in a pressure filled game following a tough loss. Second, simply put, next man up: Jake Elliot. Caleb Sturgis went down the previous week. Jake Elliot was cut from the Bengals on September 2nd, picked up by the Eagles on the 12th, and kicked the longest ever field goal in Philadelphia 61 on the 24th to win the game. He was the next man up.
2. The Eagles experienced a tough loss to the Seahawks in week 12 in which they were never really in it. Rumblings of this team being a fraud began to surface. Comments suggested the wins were against weak teams and the losses to the Chiefs and Seahawks were proof that the Eagles could not compete with the elite teams. However the following week on the road against the Rams proved this team was elite and could overcome any failure. The Rams high powered offense scored points, but not enough to win. During the competition Carson Wentz left the game with a torn ACL. The franchise QB this team has been looking for. The league MVP at the time. The one player who the Eagles could not afford to lose in their quest for a Super Bowl win. This type of devastating, catastrophic, heartbreaking, soul-ripping injury was certain to be the setback that crippled the team. Next man up: Nick Foles. He preserves the win in LA, throws 4 TD's against the Giants, stumbles against the Raiders but still wins, barely plays in a loss against the Cowboys, and beats the Falcons in the divisional round of the playoffs. This team may not be winning games by a lot, the games may be ugly, but a win is a win is a win.
The stats, analytics, talking heads, and Vegas all say this team should not have had the number 1 seed, should have lost to the "much better" Falcons, and will most likely lose tomorrow to the Vikings. Lets face it, the Vikings have the best defense in the league, a good running game, talented receivers, and a good QB, therefore should win. (Side note, even the NFL "knows the Vikings are going to win" because they momentarily posted a Super Bowl ad on their web page with a picture of Tom Brady and Case Keenum. Hopefully it is more fuel for the Eagles angry fire.) All of this points to the Vikings being the first team to ever play at home for the Super Bowl. But heart, confidence, and brotherhood are all things that cannot be accounted for through the analysis of numbers. This team fails, learns from it, and gets better. They succeed, gain unwavering confidence, become more connected with each other, and celebrate in hilarious dog masks.
Tomorrow's game is going to be a battle and battles are often won by fights harder and who sticks together. I cannot wait to see who fights harder.